Pakistan and India recently celebrated their Independence Days, separated by a period of 24 hours. It was Pakistan first on August 14, 1947 followed by India a day later. The day marked the departure of the British rule over what then was India and led to the creation of the new India and a new nation called Pakistan.
From the beginning, tensions between neighbours led to skirmishes and border fighting as each country claimed that they were cheated by the partition process.
In the 73 years after partition, with both countries achieving full sovereignty, has the departure of the British led to the fortunes envisioned by the Nehrus, Jinnahs and Gandhis? Have both nations forged ahead to become among the world’s leading nations?
When I look at a country like Japan that was literally ravaged and decimated two years before these two nations achieved independence, then I think my answer would be a straight no. When I look at South Korea, a country too ravaged by the misfortunes of the Second World War, my answer would also be a resounding no.
So what happened? Granted, India’s economy is one of the largest in the world, but is that reflected in the welfare and well-being of its people?
Gap between the haves and have-nots
The poverty levels in India have always been high and the gap between the haves and have-nots has been reaching unprecedented levels. Recent reports of hundreds of thousands of Indian migrant workers on the march during the COVID-19 pandemic is not a badge of honour that a nation can affix to itself.
Nor the subjugation of more than 8 million people in Kashmir against their will, held under military rule and denied the basics of present-day communication, the internet. A country that calls itself a democracy has in recent times been going through a transformation where democratic principles apparently seemed to have been thrown out of the window. Activists have accused the current rulers of transgressing constitutional borders and changing laws and policies.
When their people live in shantytowns or sewers? When beggary is routine especially among metropolitan cities? By what right can such countries consider themselves developed?
The infamous Citizenship Amendment Bill or CAB, which grants Indian citizenship to the non-Muslims of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and which was pushed through by the present BJP government is yet another act of Hindufying what was an amalgamation of religions and cultures. By denying Indians the right to their citizenship based on their religion, India has strayed further from the principles of democracy.
Muslims, in particular, are being targeted and there have been no loud and vocal censures from the ruling government against acts of murder and violence against some of the unfortunate victims. It seems that the government has turned its head when it comes to lynching Muslims or burning churches. This unfortunately is present-day India.
Journalist Gautam Navlakha and academic Anand Teltumbde, both noted activists for civil liberties, joined the growing list of other intellectuals and anti-Modi critics who have been incarcerated or targeted. Authorities continue to take draconian measures to suppress dissent and prevent information from leaking out. Is this democracy?
Looters of national coffers
Pakistan too has been equally unfortunate with their choices of government in decades gone past. The unrestrained looting of the national coffers by the previous rulers has left the country in dire straits, forcing the present Prime Minister Imran Khan to seek aid.
Pakistan’s unfortunate alliance with the US against the Russians and the rise of Taliban on their northern borders imported a new breed of individuals bent on mayhem.
Warlords and chiefs ruled designated areas with the government content to keep them at bay. But that has not fared well with the country that also experiences brownouts, food shortages, and lack of work opportunities. So much so, that like their Indian counterparts, many Pakistanis found themselves working in the GCC countries to eke out a living.
Nuclear powers but poor
Yes, granted that both India and Pakistan are nuclear powers but beyond that what? For the accolades when there is no food on the table for millions of their citizens? When their people live in shantytowns or sewers? When beggary is routine especially among metropolitan cities? By what right can such countries consider themselves developed?
India should go back to adopting a more democratic government, one where no minority feels marginalised and Kashmiris given their full rights.
Pakistan on the other hand must bring the corrupt lot to roost in jail cells with their loot confiscated, and focus on bringing their nation to speed.
Failing that, both nations cannot claim to have scored high following independence so many years ago.
— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena